What Is In A Name?

The intense expression of a wonderful cutting horse!

The intense expression of a wonderful cutting horse!

Do you ever wonder how famous or important people ended up where they are now? Was it luck? Due to their family? That they had enough money to buy themselves in? Or because they were actually really recognized for the talents they were blessed with?

We were out at dinner last night with a couple that we have spent time with in the past. I’ll be honest, I think the husband is a wonderful, caring and helpful person, but I have to admit I struggle with the wife. Deep down I think she means well but there are times when she opens her mouth long before she ever thinks about what is going to spew out and it really gets to me.

Last night the conversation started out with what happened to her starting on Friday. The weather has been great here in Colorado, in the mid 60’s, perfect for riding. She owns 7 horses, ages vary and she has Quarter Horses and Arabians. From day one she has made it clear to me that she believes Quarter Horses are stupid and slow to learn while Arabians are such over achievers. I believe anyone who thinks horses are stupid believe so because they have been outsmarted by one or more regardless of breed. Like people, all horses learn at their own speed, their own way. My own horses are Quarter Horses and I will happily admit that I have been taught many lessons by all of them, including what I thought I knew that I really didn’t!

Relaxed flexion

Relaxed flexion

Sadly, her horses are more like lawn ornaments than riding horses. Those she enjoys riding are all around 8 or younger and get ridden maybe 12 times……………………….in the past 3 years. They are gorgeous and in great health ~ okay maybe they are a little chunky. Since I’ve moved to Colorado she has ridden with me maybe 3 times and my heart has been in my throat every time. I put my heart, soul and complete confidence in my young horse who is 6 this year; we do everything together and go everywhere. As far as a reliable trail horse he has often times been the one to take the lead and bring older, more experienced horses through horrifying situations, including one of this lady’s horses. Am I silly in having this much faith in a young horse? I’ve been riding him since he was 3 and he has never let me down, not even when I’ve let myself down.

I’m also confident in saying after working and training with several trainers from western pleasure to cutting, I don’t know a whole lot. I can learn from almost anyone and I pick and chose what I like and will remember. I’m not above asking for help and looked for a trainer the first few months after I arrived here, I wanted one who worked with cowhorses that lived close by. I found one! A very nice man; he admits he has a lot of learning to do himself and we actually share what knowledge we do have. I’ve ridden with him several times and he helped me right from the very first day.

Back to the lady who we were having dinner with………………………. She decided that for the first time in over a month she would ride her 6 year old mare with maybe 60 days training in 3 years. In the last 8 months she has been stepped on and broken a bone in her foot when a mare ran by, pushed her and then jumped onto her, she got stepped on a couple months later when her mare wouldn’t back out of the horse trailer so she drug her around by her bit inside the trailer when “spanking” her didn’t work and a few other incidents. I’m not sure why but I dared to hope that this weekend would be so much better for her. She was unable to catch any of the horses who have never run from her in the past, for the farrier on Friday. When she finally caught her mare on Saturday the mare literally drug her, face first through the sand injuring her arms and hands and then to end the perfect weekend, stepped on her other foot. I sat listening to this in stunned silence; I have learned that talking to her doesn’t help. Then she spews out how Quarter Horses are so slow they never learn. I started to point out that working with a horse only once every 3 months is probably the largest part of the issue but was quickly interrupted, so I continued to listen.

Ranch horse loping quietly

Ranch horse loping quietly

She informs me she has asked around about my “trainer” and nobody has heard of him and rattles off several names of well known trainers all of whom I’ve never heard of. To this I sit with no response. It actually makes me very sad; these horses will continue to disrespect this woman until she is seriously hurt again and it isn’t because they are mean animals by any means they just simply don’t know and have no boundaries.

World famous #10.  He is retired from running Mammoth in Yellowstone this year.

World famous #10. He is retired from running Mammoth in Yellowstone this year.

This morning during a conversation with another friend I mentioned how I would never stand a chance in a photography contest or competing with other well known wildlife photographers and that I don’t have a name for myself. My mind quickly went back to the dinner conversation last night about one of my trainers that nobody has heard of. Several revelations came to light:

1) Everybody has to start somewhere! Bob Avila, Teddy Robinson and Trevor Brazile didn’t just wake up one morning knowing everything, with numerous horses in their barns, being asked to put on clinics all over the US and winning everything. They actually had to learn, to gain experience and practice long before great things happened. Granted some have to practice and work harder at certain things than others but they were not born this way!
2) Everybody has their own special gifts and talents. What might come naturally to one person may not be so easy for the other person. I know people who can create videos and have mastered Photoshop but when you hand them a camera and tell them to catch that horse turning a cow on the fence I am greeted with a blank stare and asked if the camera is even on.
3) Everybody has something to learn. You can be great at what you do, maybe even be considered a professional but if there is nothing else you desire to learn then what? I was once told by a Native American that once you have decided you have nothing else to learn you are dead. I guess I have no need to worry about being dead soon as I have a whole lot left to learn!
4) Just because you don’t have a “name” for your self does not mean that you are not great at what you do or that you are not “worthy.” A lot of things have to do with being in the right place at the right time and desire. Maybe my “unknown” trainer is happy doing what he’s doing in life and he gets great joy in actually knowing all his customers by name and the horses they own. Maybe that photographer who isn’t on the cover of Nat Geo actually finds more value in knowing that the mustangs they photographed 6 weeks ago are safe and sound because they were able to see them again and have been able to spend hours volunteering to make sure other mustangs aren’t being rounded up and potentially being driven to slaughter.
5) Just because you have a “name” and are well known doesn’t make you a happy person. Enjoying what you are doing each and every time you step out to do it is what makes you happy; even when the horse your riding is having a bad day and spends more time dragging your knee on the fence than standing on its own feet or the eagle you set out to photograph does nothing but poop on your backpack you set down before it chose to land on that branch above you and your too afraid to go grab it for fear it will fly off.

Bison cow in Yellowstone National Park

Bison cow in Yellowstone National Park

I spent most of my day yesterday going through images for an upcoming show; I have thousands of wildlife and wild horse images that I haven’t had the time to actually look at or edit and I was stunned over some of them that I found last night. Although I love all wildlife, from my images it is pretty clear that I understand wild horses the most. I have a long way to go in understanding my camera and Photoshop however; there are things I want to learn how to do and have yet to find the time to do it. It frustrates me to no end and then I see an image like the ones I saw last night and I’m proud to say “no re-touching has been done to this image.”

I still have a lot of images I want to capture! I have images in my head of certain scenes and feelings and I won’t stop until I get that. I pride myself for not being a “traditional” horse show photographer. When I shoot horse shows I’m looking for something unique, something inspiring and an image that tells a story and shows emotion. Traditional images are wonderful to have but I want more.

As far as my “unknown” horse trainer is concerned, I’m not sure who he aspires to become but I do know he has a wonderful wife and some great kids. He knows all of his clients and a little about their lives and they are at his barn a lot and I’ll be darned if most the time he isn’t smiling when I have been there. I’m also not being charged $150.00 for an hour lesson and being told my horse needs to be left in training for 6 months so he can fix what I broke. My horses are ridden or turned out nearly every day; they are respectful and trustworthy, talented enough to overcome the problems I hinder them with and forgiving. They may not be on their way to the AQHA World Show but in my eyes they are winners every day as they continue to learn despite me, they give me 150% and I’ve done the work myself ~ I don’t just get on at the gate.

So the next time I’m feeling a little “inadequate” or unworthy I’m going to do my best to remember that everyone has to start somewhere. I’ll encourage people to go after their dreams and wants but most importantly to pursue what makes them happy. Most importantly I’ll remind others that just because they haven’t heard of or about a person doesn’t make that person any less important, talented or valuable. Maybe they just haven’t been discovered yet! And depending on the choices that they make on how “worthy” that they decide that person with “no name”  will be whether or not they are talking about how well they knew that person before everyone else did and are able to call them a friend or saying how sorry they were that they didn’t give that person a chance back when they were nobody.

Femur's mares from the Sand Wash Basin wild horses.

Femur’s mares from the Sand Wash Basin wild horses.

Wildlife Photography ~ How Close Is Too Close……..?

Cow elk and calf crossing the river in Estes Park

Cow elk and calf crossing the river in Estes Park

A friend of mine and I were talking about a photo we saw this morning of 4 photographers running away, one of them leaving their tripod with the camera as fast as they could; approaching the camera was a younger grizzly bear.  The bear wasn’t running at them, it actually appears like it’s on a Sunday stroll.  We were laughing and he said that bear spray may have prevented this.  His next comment was “Stupid photographers!” and then he said, “Ohh wait!  I’m a photographer!”  We both laughed.  The photo was sent around and it was meant to be funny and it was.  Of course this led us to even more conversations and memories.

I normally don’t like photographing animals when there are fences in the back ground or houses but if I see wildlife I will stop regardless of where they are just to take a look.  One afternoon a few months ago on the way to the Rocky Mountain National Park to hike in the snow; the snow hadn’t arrived yet, it was nice out and as we drove through Estes Park near the golf course, we spotted a herd of elk.  Of course we stopped.  We walked out taking in the herd and noticing who the big bulls in charge were and how far away they were.  The rut was over but that doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t react if you were to get too close.  We stopped after we noticed 2 pretty large bulls about 200 feet from each other, they were still singing away and we didn’t want to be in the middle if they wanted to discuss who was boss.

Big bull elk in the golf course in Estes Park

Big bull elk in the golf course in Estes Park

As we stood taking a few shots from about 80 yards and watching the cows and calves move by one of the bulls stood to his feet and started walking the direction we were standing so we started backing away.  There were no signs of aggression on his behalf but I like my personal space and I wanted to keep his happiness just the way it was.  I turned when I heard something running up behind me just in time to see a younger blonde woman run right by us with her iPhone in hand yelling about how cool it was to see a bull elk up so close.  Don’t worry, it’s okay, she stopped probably about 20 feet from him!  My friend and I looked at each other, our mouths dropped to the ground and our eyes huge!  It was obvious to us that day that God does protect certain people out there in the world!  She stood for a long time photographing this big bull and occasionally even got in closer while my friend and I stood in amazement.  When we finally walked back to the car we were laughing about the whole thing; had we attempted to do that it wouldn’t have ended so nicely.

I was reminded about the time I was out photographing Mountain Goats about 8 months ago.  I love sitting down a safe distance from the animals I am shooting and watch behavior and how they interact with each other.  I had never photographed Mountain Goats before, they were so pretty, there were so many of them ~ I planted myself on a rock, took a couple hundred images and then just sat and watched.  One younger kid seemed to have lost its mother.  I sat on that rock and watched her over 2 hours as she approached other mother’s and was chased off, other kids didn’t play and she continued her search, crying.  That made me want to cry.  I would take some shots off and on and as I continued watching her I started taking more images as she got closer, I was using my 300mm lens at the time.  At one point I felt myself leaning backwards so that I could get more of the little goat in my frame and I even started scooting backwards on my rock to get a better shot as I kept trying to pull my lens back.  I finally put the camera down frustrated that I was missing out on decent shots because my camera wasn’t helping me.  When I did I realized the little girl was nearly in my lap!  I guess it wasn’t the camera after all.  She stood in front of me crying out a few times before she realized I wasn’t her mom either and moved on.  About 30 minutes later her mother and twin jumped down from a rock formation behind me; they were not there when I sat down!  I had never intended to get that close and personal with the goats, but through my excitement with having the opportunity to spend time with them I got closer than I ever expected.

Not cropped in at all, and this was my 70mm lens and it was still too close

Not cropped in at all, and this was my 70mm lens and it was still too close

My friend and I continued to laugh about the image with the grizzly bear but I can say I have been so intrigued with shooting certain wildlife and forgotten my surroundings while looking through the view finder at times.  Lucky for me when I do shoot bears I’m with a group who is very experienced and we watch out for each other.  Normally I’m the one who forgets to shoot the images and am watching and learning from new behaviors and can sound the alarm if they are getting to close for my taste.  My favorite animals to shoot are normally horses, wild and domestic.  The domestic horses have no concept as to what personal space is and as soon as they see a camera feel that you want them to come in closer!  And I still haven’t figured out what it is with wildlife sticking out their tongues!

Blueper's nose on a snow day.  Didn't see the tongue till I got in the house and looked at the images

Blueper’s nose on a snow day. Didn’t see the tongue till I got in the house and looked at the images

Through Wolf’s Eyes

Grey Wolf taken in Yellowstone standing over an elk carcass.

Grey Wolf taken in Yellowstone standing over an elk carcass.

My name? I’m not sure. At the place I originally came from I would normally hear them call me 897M but I have no name. It was pretty there. Lots of room, green grass, rivers to play in, rocks to climb and some really big mountains. It would snow a lot there when the days were short. There was also a lot of elk and bison there, hundreds of them. The best time was when the short days started to become long again and the sun made the earth warm the family didn’t have to hunt as much because we would find the old and weak dead near the water’s edge. Sometimes the big brown bears would come and take the dead from us but we would normally fight for it and win. There were lots of others like me there too, not family though.

When I turned two I felt the need to move on and find a family of my own. I traveled far within this area but the families were tight and not welcoming so they drove me further and further out of the place I once called home. I didn’t want to fight or cause trouble; I just wanted a mate of my own. I eventually ended up in mountains I had never seen before where the families were fewer and smaller but I wanted land of my own where my family would be safe from others so I continued traveling in the direction that the sun set. One long, warm day I came across a rather large family who had sent their daughter away and she joined me. It was nice to have company after so many months.

We crossed many rivers, mountains and black lines with noisy machines that went very fast. We did our best to stay up high to avoid the animals that walked upright on two legs that drove these machines and lived in square dens above ground. Sometimes we would see them up high on the mountains but we would hide in the trees and watch them as they ate the elk or deer and when they would leave we would approach to see what they left behind.

As we traveled the mountains became smaller and so did the trees in places but there were still Aspen trees, elk, deer and other hoofed animals. We no longer saw the big brown bears but we still saw the black ones. We had to go around many tight lines with barb stickers on them, sometimes in these areas we saw a new hoofed animal but they didn’t smell like elk and we had plenty to eat here so we avoided them. Since the mountains were shorter it was getting harder to avoid the animals that moved upright on two legs but we did our best to stay hidden in the trees.

Eventually we found an area where there was lots of room, Aspen trees, elk and deer and water. This is where we stopped when the sun became shorter and my mate had her pups. Since there were no other families here it was easy to find food and watch the pups grow bigger. We could tell that before us one like us had been here but its scent was long faded and we wondered where he had gone. When the sun started becoming longer again the pups were very large and strong, we often went out as a family to hunt elk and deer but we did our best to stay hidden. The animals that walked upright on two legs with the machines were more here and meaner. They carried long sticks that exploded and we would see them chase the new hoofed animals with small machines until they were tired and weak.

Sometimes we would have to move through these areas to get where the elk and deer were and another kind of hoofed animal lived. Their hooves were not split and they moved very fast. The upright, two legged animals didn’t come here often unless it was to stalk the fast hoofed animals or to chase the other hoofed animals on small machines. The fast hoofed animals seem to be more powerful than the upright, two legged animal and the split hoofed ones because they were seldom harmed even though they were stalked. They stayed to themselves and hidden mostly. We would also see coyotes and fox here and another that looked like us but who traveled with the upright, two legged animals and they smelled. There was lots of food here, places to hide and water but we would only stay to hunt and then return home to the place of the Aspen trees. The pups had grown so much now and were able to travel farther from home and learn how to assist in our hunts of rabbits and deer.

During the season of the short sun more of the two legged, upright animals appeared by our home in the Aspen trees. It was strange how they followed our paw prints and would stare at our droppings. The droppings would disappear when they would leave in the big metal machines that brought them here, were they taking it back to their den? Them being so close to our home scared us and we moved further back into the trees and hid more and traveled more at night so they wouldn’t notice us.

We spent many days here happy; playing, hunting and hidden. One day when the sun started staying up longer two of the four pups went with my mate to the hunting grounds to watch for elk, we needed to bring back food for the new pups born many moons before. The hunting ground was quiet, no split hoofed animals were nearby and only the fast ones with no split hooves were close. They hid as they watched a metal machine go by with coyotes in the back; they were very still and lifeless. When it disappeared from the valley they continued on looking for elk but none were found that day. As they started to return for home my mate smelled dying rabbit, at least which would hold the pups over until the next sun. As she reached for it there was an explosion. She jumped backwards, startled and began trembling and shaking her head and pawing at her mouth. She told the pups to run and hide as she began gasping for air and staggering, she couldn’t get enough air into her as hard as she tried. Many minutes later she was quiet and lifeless like the coyotes on the metal machine. The pups tried to wake her up but there was no breath, they lied across her and howled begging her to get up and take them home but she wouldn’t move. When the sun finally left the sky they howled for her to come with them one more time and when she still did not move they ran for their home in the Aspen trees.

I heard the pups when they were close and knew something was wrong as they cried with low moans and whimpers. The other pups and I left the new pups sleeping and met them at the edge of the Aspens. I took one of the pups who had originally stayed with me and one who knew where his mother was back to the hunting grounds with me while the others stayed to watch over the new pups. She was just sick I was sure and I could bring her back to the Aspens and help her. The sun was just starting to come over the hills when we got to where she was, the area smelled like the two legged animals that walked upright. We searched for most of the time the sun was in the sky; sometimes we would stop and howl, waiting for her to answer us. No howl came back. We laid down in the shade to wait but she didn’t come. When the sun left the sky we returned home to the Aspen trees and the other pups that were waiting.

We stayed close to our home in the Aspen trees for a few suns and only hunted small game hoping she would return. We would howl often in hope she would hear us and respond letting us know she was coming home but no howl came back. I went back to the hunting grounds several times alone looking for her where she had been now only smelled of metal machine and the animals that lived in it. The pups were growing fast and the smaller animals we were finding close to our home in the Aspen trees was no longer enough to take their hunger away. We needed to find an elk and it should be soon. One day as the sun was leaving the sky and darkness was close I returned to the hunting ground again. After looking again for my mate I started to follow the trail of the elk. They were coming down from the high mountains now. I could tell they were close as I weaved in and out of the short trees along the river here. I stopped a little while later, hiding at the edge of the trees when I spotted an elk by the water. It was lying down with its front half in the water, the other half out on the bank. I waited for a long time for it to get up but it didn’t, I could actually smell a bit of death. I walked toward it slowly, weaving back and forth in case it did get up but it continued to be still. As I got closer there was a trace of the smell of one of the upright, two legged animals but it was very faint, I thought maybe it had been why the elk was dead; we had seen them often use one of the metal exploding sticks on the elk and other fast moving hoofed animals. The animals would fall quickly and lay quiet, sometimes it would take awhile, but their breath would leave them as the upright, two legged animals would roar and then get in the metal machines and go away. It was odd that they did not stay or take away good food like bears, lions, coyotes and we did. The fallen hoofed animals would eventually feed the others for days if they were left behind once the stench left the area and they felt it was okay to approach.

The elk had no breath left in it and it smelled safe, I was in a hurry and needed to take back food to the pups at our home in the Aspen trees. I started to tear into the hide and glanced around, the air was uneasy it seemed. I tore into a softer area of the hide and suddenly there was a loud explosion from where I had grabbed, a very strange and powerful stench. I jumped backwards, shaking my head and pawing at my mouth and face. I couldn’t take the smell away and ran toward the river, water would surely remove what it is that was taking my breath away. I rolled in the water, face first several times but my breath was getting harder and harder to take.

My name? I don’t think I have a name, Lord. Other than the number I was once called I sometimes would hear wolf or grey wolf. Is it important? I’m worried about our pups. They are out there without guidance and there was still much to learn for even the older pups about hunting and staying safe. We miss their mother; do you know where she may have gone? Why can’t I return to the pups Lord? Without us they will not know where to stay, what is safe to hunt and what to avoid. If one is injured the other may not know how to help it. My mate………………………..I see her now by your side. She looks many seasons younger again and a darker grey like when I first saw her and her family. We are home? Safe with no metal exploding sticks to fear? Please Lord, watch over our pups.

And Lord, please forgive them, the two legged, upright ones, they don’t know what they do…………………

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Imagine if a government agency or agencies in a state where wolves were still federally protected were to keep the presence of wolves a secret. Then due to pressure from corporate ranchers and their own reasons for personal gain decided to take matters in their own hands to make sure the wolves were taken care of before the rest of the public found out they were there. It happened. It may still be happening. I was recently asked by a group to assist them with another issue and in our discussion wolves were brought up. At first I thought it was “mistaken identity” – they had to mean coyotes. After more research I turned up evidence of wolves. The number of the wolf is made up. Through my research I followed a wolf’s journey and need to tell their story. I’m not finished yet………………………………..and I won’t give up.

Grey Wolf taken in Yellowstone standing over an elk carcass.

Grey Wolf taken in Yellowstone standing over an elk carcass.